Mitzvot, mitzvot and more mitzvot. This basically sums up this week's parsha which accounts for a whopping 74 of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. The list includes laws relating to war, honesty in business, marriage and divorce, returning lost objects, vows, prompt payment of wages and protecting people from danger.
At times of war, morality and respect for basic human dignity is often shunted aside. The Torah, while recognizing the unfortunate reality of war mandates laws that ensure we retain our human dignity even during these difficult times. One was not allowed to wantonly destroy property as is the common practice of invading armies. One must take a spade with oneself to ensure that human waste is disposed of properly. During wartime, rape and sexual immorality are a too common occurrence. The Torah, cognizant this reality "speaks to our evil inclination" by allowing us to marry a beautiful woman who has been taken captive during war. Rape / no; but after a cooling down period if you still desired to marry her, permission was granted. In this way the Torah hoped to prevent preying on innocent women who happen to cross your path.
While allowing for a marriage based on infatuation the Torah subtly warns us that it is unlikely such a marriage will be a success. The next section in the Torah describes a rebellious and wayward child "who does not obey his father and mother". A marriage based on lust and lack of self restraint is one where enduring values are lacking. It is thus no surprise that children from such a union will rebel against their parents.
In theory (the Talmud tells us that in reality this was never done nor will it even be done in the future) there are times when a child is so rotten that the Torah prescribes putting the child to death now rather than waiting for the child to grow up and commit more heinous crimes (a different concept than that of the Young Offenders Act). In fact the execution is to be conducted in public so that "all of Israel will hear about it and have fear."
This expression is used on only four occasions by the Torah. In each case the Torah is concerned lest the social fabric of society be destroyed. The first case is that of a Maiseet, a person who tries to convince Jews to abandon Judaism and to choose a foreign way of life. The second case is that of eid zomem - a false witness who by his testimony undermines the judicial system. The expression is also found regarding a zaken mamreh , a rebellious scholar who defies and instructs others to defy the court ruling. And finally the ben soreh v'moreh the rebellious child who attempts to destroy the family unit.
The Torah next informs us that a person sentenced to death by a court (a criminal) must be given a proper burial. In fact this is the source for Jewish law in general regarding burials. While the death penalty may have been necessary it does not absolve us from treating the divine image that rested in that person with dignity and respect. Of course, if one must respect a common criminal how much more so must proper respect be shown to a decent human being.
A similar idea is expressed in the custom to cover the challah when we make kiddush on Friday nights. This is done in order not to "embarrass" the challah . Since bread has always been the staple food (especially in ancient times) it would normally be the first item we consume. Since on Friday night we make kiddush first, we cover the bread in order not to insult it. Surely bread has no feelings or emotions. Yet the rabbis in trying to impress upon us the importance of sensitivity towards others instruct us to have sensitivity even towards inanimate objects. If we are not even allowed to embarrass bread then clearly it is forbidden to embarrass people.
Whether in times of war, or in dealing with criminals or even inanimate objects the dignity of all must be maintained and respected. This way we can build a society in which war will not be possible. Shabbat Shalom!